Attention! Can customers hear your message among the multi-channel noise? – 05 May 2009

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With consumers being bombarded with so much information across many channels, grabbing their attention can be difficult if your message doesn’t appeal to them. So how can marketers make themselves heard?

Seven lessons

By David Jefferies, Pitney Bowes

In today’s multi-channel, information-rich world, it is an individual’s attention that has become the scarcest resource, with consumers being besieged by up to 2,000 marketing and advertising messages each day, according to research.

‘Attention economics’ is the snappy term coined by business analysts to articulate this concept, and American political scientist Herbert Simon was one of the first to define it: “…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

This is the challenge facing companies. As demands on attention have increased, so consumers have reacted to those demands by taking greater control. Communication has transformed from a push method, where businesses dictate the feed of information, to a pull model, where consumers have far more power in determining what reaches them and what doesn’t.

“Communication has transformed from a push method, where businesses dictate the feed of information, to a pull model, where consumers have far more power in determining what reaches them and what doesn’t.”

Of course, advertising and marketing hasn’t disappeared and people remain open to offers and campaigns. But the sheer noise of information from such an abundance of channels and touch-points means messages face the risk of being ignored, swamped by the competition or, worse still, irritating the recipient to such an extent that the latest channels – blogs, social network sites, etc – are used to vent frustration at the brand concerned.

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Ensuring a satisfactory ROI from marketing spend in this climate is no easy task. Undoubtedly, many companies have wasted significant sums by targeting the wrong channels and chasing an audience that simply doesn’t exist for them, or only exists via other routes. But the more astute businesses are learning to negotiate this maze of options in a planned and progressive fashion.

I’m listening – what now?

Never before has the concept of channel integration and consistency of message been so important. If multiple-channels are used, it is imperative that the infrastructure is in place to handle the variety of responses and queries that will result. Consumers used to the instantaneous nature of the web will not appreciate delayed answers or time-lagged service. Conversely, those used to corresponding via more traditional media will react negatively to being rushed and harried.

Consistency across channels is also important. This is not to say that certain channels cannot be incentivised with different offers, but the tone of message, the style and the design must be familiar across all touch-points if brand recognition and message recollection are to be heightened.

Businesses must also avoid falling into the trap of assuming that capturing attention is the ultimate goal. There is both negative and positive attention and those companies attempting to be all things to all people by embracing the latest communication media can end up looking out of touch and desperate. Again, get it wrong, and infamy via the blogosphere awaits.

“Consumers used to the instantaneous nature of the web will not appreciate delayed answers or time-lagged service. Conversely, those used to corresponding via more traditional media will react negatively to being rushed and harried.”

Somewhat ironically, businesses are finding that traditional methods such as direct mail and brand advertising remain the most effective way of attracting people to web-based products or services. Indeed, the relationship between the channels is interesting to observe. The early days of the web heralded all-singing, all-dancing sites that used every conceivable trick and graphical device in a bid to attract attention. As the channel matures, so sites have become subtler, cleaner, quick and simple to read and digest – like the very best direct mail.

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The attention economy demands relevancy and timeliness. The multi-channel approach can be highly effective but, in order to hit home, messages must be targeted and timed to land at the apposite moment. As ever, data accuracy is the key and any half-measures at the data management and analysis stage will quickly become apparent in the final message. The temptation for many is to concentrate on message content and design. But it is the process of message creation and delivery and the infrastructure of response handling that is of critical importance. These processes are the mechanics behind the face of the brand

Quite simply, it is only the most carefully planned and skilfully executed marketing campaigns that stand a chance of making an impression amongst the clamour of competition. The attention economy puts more control in the hands of the customer but this does not mean that the audience is resistant to all marketing communications. In fact, the opposite is true. Amongst all the noise – the paper flotsam and digital jetsam – consumers will be truly enthused by well thought-out messages that treat them as valued individuals and talk to them in language that is timely and pertinent.

Companies paying close attention to the needs of their audience will find their messages getting through loud and clear.

David Jefferies is marketing director at Pitney Bowes

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